Defending the Environment at the Local Level: Dom Eliseu, Brazil, 2008–2014

Focus Area(s): 
Economic Services
Natural Resources
Critical Tasks: 
Agricultural intensification
Building citizen support
Common pool resources & public goods
Conserving forests
Crime & natural resources
High-yielding varieties
Informal settlements
Making services accessible
Municipal centers of government
Resource monitoring
Resource protection & enforcement
Core Challenge: 
Collective action
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform: 
Case Studies
Maya Gainer
Full Publication 

A former center of the timber industry in the Brazilian Amazon, the municipality of Dom Eliseu had built its economy around deforestation—much of it illegal. In 2008, as part of a strategy to enforce the country’s environmental policies, the federal Ministry of the Environment included Dom Eliseu on a list of the worst violators of deforestation laws. The blacklist cut off residents’ access to markets and credit and made the municipality the target of intensive law enforcement. To get off the blacklist, the community had to overcome a collective-action problem. The local government had to persuade the owners of 80% of private land—more than 1,000 properties—to map their property boundaries, declare the extent of deforestation, enter their properties in the state environmental registration system, and adopt more-sustainable methods of production. The municipality also had to build the capacity to take on new responsibilities for environmental protection—most important, environmental licensing, which would enable the local government to regulate land use. With support from nongovernmental organizations and the state, Dom Eliseu successfully coordinated private compliance with the national policy and left the blacklist in 2012.


Maya Gainer drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Belém and Dom Eliseu, Brazil, in September 2014. This case was funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation in collaboration with the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Case published March 2015.

command and control
law enforcement
Cadastro Ambiental Rural
land registry
environmental licensing
Green Municipalities Program
institutional capacity
spoiler trap
electoral cycles
geographic access
information technology
informal & illegal markets
collective action
credible commitment
forest protection